What It Takes® podcast

What It Takes®

Revealing, intimate conversations with visionaries and leaders in the arts, science, technology, public service, sports and business. These engaging personal stories are drawn from interviews with the American Academy of Achievement, and offer insights you’ll want to apply to your own life.

Revealing, intimate conversations with visionaries and leaders in the arts, science, technology, public service, sports and business. These engaging personal stories are drawn from interviews with the American Academy of Achievement, and offer insights you’ll want to apply to your own life.

 

#218

Willie Mays: For the Love of the Game_In Memoriam

We invite you to honor and celebrate the great Willie Mays, who died this week at the age of 93, by taking a listen to the stories he told about his life on this episode. It was one of the first episodes of "What It Takes," and it remains one of our all-time favorites: Baseball fans may argue to this day about which was the best of Willie Mays’ many spectacular catches, but nearly all agree — he was one of the most versatile, virtuosic players of all time. In this episode, featuring an intimate interview with Mays recorded in 1996, the Hall-of-Famer talks about growing up in segregated Alabama, and winning over racist baseball fans soon after he became the first African-American player on his team. He recalls the day he got the call to move up to the majors, and describes in delightful terms how he never had to actually work at being a great athlete. He also talks about the catch he swears was better than “The Catch.” Hearing his voice, you’re reminded why Willie Mays was one of America’s most beloved baseball players, as well as one of its greatest. (c ) American Academy of Achievement 2015-2024 ... Read more

21 Jun 2024

26 MINS

26:20

21 Jun 2024


#217

Jeff Koons: Contemporary Art Phenomenon

Jeff Koons is one of the most successful artists of our time. For 40+ years, his iconic works have brought a sense of playfulness to museums worldwide, and sometimes a bit of controversy as well. His iconic pop art sculptures include a giant pink rabbit that looks so remarkably like a shiny mylar inflatable, it's hard to believe it is made of metal. His balloon dog, the type you'd see at a child's birthday party, likewise demands a second look. In this recent interview, Koons describes his lifelong love of gazing balls, like the ones he saw growing up in York, Pennsylvania, and how he came to incorporate them (and other reflective surfaces) into his art. He talks about his days as a young, aspiring artist, and his unlikely meeting with Salvador Dalí.  And  he talks about what's next, as he prepares to launch his latest pieces into space.  ... Read more

12 Feb 2024

44 MINS

44:52

12 Feb 2024


#216

Best of (Nobel Prize Edition) - Katalin Karikó and Drew Weissman: The Vaccine Revolution

The COVID-19 vaccine came out at warp speed because of the work of these two scientists. This week, they were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. In celebration, we are re-posting our episode about Katalin Karikó and Drew Weissman. For many, many years they investigated the secrets of messenger RNA (mRNA). And when the pandemic began, their research was ready and waiting. On this episode you’ll hear Katalin Karikó talk about her humble beginnings in Hungary, and the forces that enabled her to persevere, even though for decades people thought her ideas about mRNA were laughable.  She was denied grants, lost jobs and wasn’t taken seriously, but she never wavered. Fortunately, she met Drew Weissman one day at a copy machine, where they both worked at the University of Pennsylvania. Dr. Weissman was an immunologist, working on a vaccine for HIV.  He was interested in Karikó’s work and they began to collaborate. Even when they made major discoveries, they could not get support for their work… until the Corona Virus appeared. Now the scientific world sees the potential that Karikó and Weissman saw all along: that mRNA may open the door to many other vaccines and to therapeutic treatment for a host of illnesses, from Cancer to Sickle Cell Anemia to Heart Disease.   (c ) American Academy of Achievement 2023     ... Read more

02 Oct 2023

57 MINS

57:48

02 Oct 2023


#215

Best Of - Gordon Lightfoot: If You Could Read My Mind

Gordon Lightfoot has died, at the age of 84. He spoke with the Academy of Achievement last year, and we featured that interview in an episode. To honor the legendary singer and songwriter, we are re-posting the episode today.  Gordon Lightfoot had a slew of international hits in the 1960's and 70's, including "If You Could Read My Mind," "Sundown" and The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald." His songs were also performed by some of the biggest stars of that time, including Jerry Lee Lewis, The Grateful Dead, Elvis Presley, Bob Dylan, and Barbra Streisand.  Lightfoot was still writing and performing into his 80's. In this interview you will find him as charming a raconteur as you might expect, given the nature of the songs he writes. He talks about his childhood in a small town in Ontario, and about his path to the top of the music industry. He describes the quirks of his songwriting process, and explains why he changed the words of "Edmund Fitzgerald" after he recorded it.  (c ) American Academy of Achievement 2022-2023 ... Read more

02 May 2023

42 MINS

42:03

02 May 2023


#214

T.J. Stiles and David Blight: The Epic Life

These two Pulitzer Prize-winning biographers have spent their careers delving into the lives of Americans who changed the course of U.S. history. T.J. Stiles and David Blight talk here about how historical biography can bring us closer to an understanding of the times we live in. They discuss why Jesse James, General George Custer, Cornelius Vanderbilt and Frederick Douglass are relevant still. And they let us in on some surprising aspects of their own lives! © American Academy of Achievement 2023     ... Read more

27 Mar 2023

59 MINS

59:26

27 Mar 2023


#213

Best of - Wayne Shorter and Esperanza Spalding: Jazz Invention

Wayne Shorter was a legendary saxophonist and composer whose career began in the 1950's and spanned the development of modern jazz. Mr. Shorter died this week, at the age of 89. To honor his life and music, we are bringing back this episode, which originally aired in 2017. It features Wayne Shorter and a jazz artist 50 years his junior: Esperanza Spalding. Ms. Spalding is a bass player, composer, lyricist and singer - and one of the most exciting artists in contemporary jazz. Wayne Shorter and Esperanza Spalding may have come of age during different jazz eras and in different parts of the country, but they became friends and artistic soulmates, who shared many of the same views about making music and the creative process. (c ) American Academy of Achievement 2017-2023 ... Read more

03 Mar 2023

1 HR 09 MINS

1:09:30

03 Mar 2023


#212

Best Of - Neil Sheehan and David Halberstam: Truth Seekers

Fifty years ago today (January 27, 1973), the United States' military involvement in the Vietnam War came to an end, with the signing of the Paris Peace Accords. We mark that occasion by bringing back our episode on two brave reporters, who risked their lives and their reputations during the war in Vietnam, to reveal the truth to the American people about what was happening there. Both describe here - how and when they realized the United States government was lying about the causes and the scope of the war. And both eloquently explain their views on the role of the journalist as a witness and an adversary of government. Neil Sheehan, who died earlier this month, also talks about his role in exposing the Pentagon Papers in the pages of the New York Times. And he details why he was driven to spend over 13 years writing a definitive history of the war, called "A Bright Shining Lie," which won the Pulitzer Prize. Mr. Halberstam, who won the Pulitzer during the war, went on to write one of the other most important accounts of U.S. involvement in Vietnam: "The Best and the Brightest." (c ) American Academy of Achievement 2021-2023 ... Read more

27 Jan 2023

58 MINS

58:54

27 Jan 2023


#211

Best Of - Maya Angelou (Part 2): In the Spirit of Martin

In honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, we treat you to a re-broadcast of this episode from 2017. Maya Angelou and Martin Luther King Jr. were close friends, years before Angelou became known throughout the world for her memoir “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings." In this, the second our two Maya Angelou podcasts, she offers her personal reflections of Dr. King as a poet and a man with great humility and a sense of humor. She talks about the state of the African-American community decades later, and the importance of using language to uplift (describing an encounter she had with Tupac Shakur to make her point). And in her powerful, unique voice, she reminds us of the eternal relevance of Dr. King's wisdom. (c ) American Academy of Achievement 2017-2023 ... Read more

16 Jan 2023

32 MINS

32:57

16 Jan 2023


#210

Best Of - Nora Ephron: Unstoppable Wit

Contemplating what movie to watch this holiday week? You can't go wrong with "When Harry Met Sally," perhaps the greatest rom-com of all time. Nora Ephron, who wrote the screenplay, as well as other great movies and books,  knew just how to make people laugh and cry and kvell. But mostly laugh. She was a successful director and producer too, in an industry not very hospitable to women. In this episode, Ephron shares the most important lesson she learned from her mother: that all pain is fodder for a good story. She explains why becoming a journalist was the best thing she ever did. And she tells stories from her later career in Hollywood, including the one about how the famous faked-orgasm scene in "When Harry Met Sally" came about. (c ) American Academy of Achievement 2017-2022 ... Read more

26 Dec 2022

41 MINS

41:26

26 Dec 2022


#209

Best of - John Irving: A Literary Life

2022 was a big year for John Irving, the author of "The World According to Garp," "A Prayer for Owen Meany," and "The Cider House Rules." He turned 80, and just recently published The Last Chairlift, his first novel in seven years.  It is 913 pages long and is, he says, the last long book he will ever write. Seemed like a great time to bring back our 2016 episode on John Irving. In it, he talks about why he approaches every book by writing the last sentence first.  And he might just convince you that his uncommon approach is the only one that makes any sense. In this episode, he also opens up about his early life, and reveals how his mysteriously absent father, his learning disability, and his passion for wrestling, all contributed to his success as a writer. Whether you've read every John Irving novel or none, this is a fascinating story about the writing process, and about an author some critics have called the Charles Dickens of our time. (c ) American Academy of Achievement 2016-2022 ... Read more

05 Dec 2022

30 MINS

30:00

05 Dec 2022


#208

Gordon Lightfoot: If You Could Read My Mind

He had a slew of international hits in the 1960's and 70's, including "If You Could Read My Mind," "Sundown" and The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald."  His songs were also performed by some of the biggest stars of that time, including Jerry Lee Lewis, The Grateful Dead, Elvis Presley, Bob Dylan, and Barbra Streisand. Today, at 84 years old, Gordon Lightfoot is still writing and performing. He is as charming a raconteur as you might expect, given the nature of the songs he writes, and talks here about his childhood in a small town in Ontario, and about his path to the top of the music industry.  He describes the quirks of his songwriting process, and explains why he changed the words of "Edmund Fitzgerald" after he recorded it.  (c ) American Academy of Achievement 2022 ... Read more

21 Nov 2022

42 MINS

42:03

21 Nov 2022


#207

Roger Daltrey: Rock Icon

The Who changed rock n roll, with the use of synthesizers, feedback, power chords and a wild onstage presence  They were rock gods. And they created the first rock opera. Lead singer Roger Daltrey is now 78. He's a grandfather, and wears hearing aids. But he is still on the road doing shows.  He talks here about his roots in post-war England, and about meeting the other original members of The Who in high school. He discusses how they developed their unique sound, and dishes a little gossip about why he was once kicked out of the  band after getting into a fight with drummer Keith Moon.  He also has a good laugh about the band's supposed sense of style. And he gives insights into some of The Who's best-loved songs.   (c ) American Academy of Achievement 2022 ... Read more

31 Oct 2022

59 MINS

59:57

31 Oct 2022


#206

Best of - Milton Friedman: Champion of Capitalism

As Americans struggle to pay their bills in the face of inflation, policymakers and economists are debating the best way to control rising prices.  Central to that debate are ideas first put forward by Milton Friedman, winner of the 1976 Nobel Prize for economics, and a leading theorist of inflation. Friedman was an outspoken proponent of the free market and small government, and one of the most influential economists of all time. His ideas on monetary policy, taxation, privatization and deregulation have had enormous impact on government policies in the U.S. (and around the world) for over 50 years, including the Federal Reserve’s response to the global financial crisis. In this re-broadcast of our episode (which originally posted in 2020), Friedman talks about growing up in a home with poorly-educated, immigrant parents, and about how he fell in love with math. He explains how the Depression and the New Deal opened his eyes to the importance of economics. And he lays out his analysis of market forces and the role of government. Thirty years after this interview was recorded, his ideas are as provocative as ever. (c ) American Academy of Achievement 2020-2022 ... Read more

17 Oct 2022

56 MINS

56:40

17 Oct 2022


#205

Best of - Sonia Sotomayor: Power of Words

We celebrate National Hispanic Heritage Month (Sept 15 - Oct 15) by taking a new listen to our 2017 episode on United States Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor. Justice Sotomayor tells the extraordinary story of her voyage from the most dangerous neighborhood in the United States, to the highest court in the land -- a voyage fueled by the power of words. In a wide-ranging conversation with NPR's Nina Totenberg, recorded at the Supreme Court in 2016, Sotomayor shares her earliest memories of life in the tenements of the South Bronx: her diagnosis with diabetes, her trips to the market with her beloved grandmother, her father's death, and her love affair with books. She also talks about how she learned to learn, and to rely on the wisdom of friends and colleagues -- skills that carried her through Princeton, Yale, her prestigious legal career, and one beautiful throw from the pitcher's mound. (c ) American Academy of Achievement 2017-2022 ... Read more

19 Sep 2022

58 MINS

58:51

19 Sep 2022


#204

Mike Wallace and Art Buchwald: Blues Brothers

One was an aggressive, no-holds-barred television interviewer. One was a newspaper columnist, who employed gentle satire to swipe at the rich and the powerful.  Mike Wallace and Art Buchwald were leading media figures for fifty-plus years: Wallace as the co-host of "60 Minutes", Buchwald as the Washington Post humorist whose column was syndicated to over 500 newspapers. They went after the truth in very different ways, but they were the best of friends.  They jokingly called themselves "The Blues Brothers" because they helped each other get through serious bouts of depression. Mike Wallace and Art Buchwald talk here about their childhoods (both were first-generation Americans) and share stories of the tragedies in their lives. They also describe how they got into the news business. No doubt you'll be amused to hear Wallace in the early days of radio, reading an ad for Mars Candy Bars!    (c ) American Academy of Achievement 2022 ... Read more

05 Sep 2022

51 MINS

51:55

05 Sep 2022


#203

Best Of - B.B. King: King of the Blues

BB King began life as a humble Mississippi cotton farmer, and ended up one of the most influential guitarists and singers of the past century. Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, Carlos Santana, Bonnie Raitt, The Rolling Stones and many others are among his disciples. During his lifetime he was celebrated by presidents, kings & queens - and declared a national treasure. The interview you’ll hear in this episode was recorded at the 2004 Academy of Achievement Summit in Chicago, and includes stories about King’s prowess on a cotton field as well his awakening to the racial injustice all around him. He recalls seeing the bodies of people who’d been lynched… and years later, the feeling he had the first time he arrived to play before an adoring crowd of white fans. This episode originally posted in 2015. The thrill is definitely not gone!    (c ) American Academy of Achievement 2015-2022 ... Read more

22 Aug 2022

36 MINS

36:57

22 Aug 2022


#202

Best of - David McCullough, Stephen Ambrose and David Herbert Donald: Time Travelers

It is the rare writer who can make history so compelling, so alive, that people will flock to read it.  David McCullough, who died last Sunday, was one of those writers. He was the author of two Pulitzer Prize-winning books: one about President Harry Truman and one about President John Adams. In honor of Mr. McCullough, we are reposting this episode from 2020 which featured him and two other great presidential historians: Stephen Ambrose and David Herbert Donald. They talk here about their subjects as if they had gone back in time and returned, breathless, to share the stories they'd heard. And each writer explains how he fell under the spell of history and made it his life's work.   (c ) American Academy of Achievement 2020-2022 ... Read more

09 Aug 2022

54 MINS

54:18

09 Aug 2022


#201

Best of - Bill Russell: Giant of a Man

The most astonishing winning streak in the history of sports, belonged to the Boston Celtics.  They won eleven championships between 1957 and 1969, eight of those in a row.  And the player at the center of those wins - was Bill Russell, who died this week at the age of 88.  Russell changed the game of basketball, with his incredible speed, and his ability to block shots as no player had  done before.  When he took over as coach of the Celtics (while still playing on the team), he became the first African-American coach of any major sport in the U.S. In this episode, which first ran in 2017, Russell talks about his life in basketball, and he  describes how he was shaped by the racism he confronted, on and off the court. (c ) American Academy of Achievement 2017-2022 ... Read more

03 Aug 2022

32 MINS

32:48

03 Aug 2022